Updated: on 20 March 2024

This beautiful Buddhist Kingdom is known for its dramatic Himalayan landscapes, magical monasteries untouched by the passage of time, and the happiness of the nation where the most important metric of the government is the ‘Gross National Happiness’. Unique as it is, the entry requirements for Bhutan are also unlike those of any other nation. Tourists to Bhutan are required to pay a fixed daily fee or tourism tax as part of the entry requirements for Bhutan tourists. This fee is called the Sustainable Development Fee, or SDF for short. The SDF is part of the tiny nation's ‘high value, low impact’ tourism model which minimizes the cultural and environmental impact travelers have on the country while maximizing the financial benefits to its residents. Unless you come from India, you will need a valid visa for Bhutan, and this is where it can get complicated, so booking your Bhutan travels with an Asia travel expert like Secret Retreats can pay you dividends. The SDF has been charged since 1974 when Bhutan first opened its doors to international tourists. In 2022, following the pandemic, as the region started to reopen for travel and tourism the Bhutanese government set the SDF at 200 USD per person per day. However, in 2023, in light of the world’s economic problems and cost of living issues, the Bhutanese government decided to halve the SDF from 200 USD per person per day to just 100 USD per person per day, and to relax Bhutan entry restrictions until August 2027 when it is expected that the SDF will return to at least 200 USD per person per day. In addition, children under 6 years of age are not charged the SDF, and for children aged between 6 and 12years of age, the SDF is charged at 50% of the adult charge, so a fee of just 50 USD per child per day (under 6 free). So now really is a great time to visit the Bhutanese Kingdom. Although this all makes the Kingdom of Bhutan one of the more expensive countries to visit, tourists can rest assured that their money is going to good causes such as funding sustainable tourism practices, carbon offset initiatives, and filling markets with organic produce. Bhutan was the first country on the planet to become carbon-negative thanks to its unique tourism practices, and it also ranks as one of the world’s happiest nations and thankfully the process of obtaining a Bhutan tourist visa is also surprisingly stress-free.

How to Apply for a Bhutan tourist visa

For travellers holding passports from nations other than India, a Bhutan tourist visa is required. Before applying for your visa you will need to have paid the SDF in full for the planned duration of your holiday in Bhutan for each member of your travelling party. The visa can then be applied for online or applied for on your behalf by your appointed tour operator. As the Asia travel experts, Secret Retreats can plan and book your Bhutan holiday and assist you with the visa formalities to make the whole process simple for you. To apply for the Bhutan tourist visa online you will need to have proof of payment of your SDF, a valid passport with at least 2 blank pages for stamps, and a minimum of 6 month’s validity from your planned date of departure from Bhutan. You will also need to make a digital copy of all passports of your travelling party and provide recently taken digital passport photos of each traveller. You will also need to provide the dates on which you intend to arrive and depart and proof of travel insurance for the duration of your stay in the kingdom. And you will be required to sign Bhutan’s Pledge of Friendship, which is a promise to protect, preserve and to positively contribute to the kingdom during your travels. The Bhutan visa application can be made online via the government website https://visit.doi.gov.bt/.

Once the application form and documents have been approved you will receive an authorization document, which usually takes a few days to come through. This authorization document should be presented to the immigration authorities on arrival at Paro Airport where it will be converted into a Bhutan visa on arrival. The holder of a Bhutan tourist visa is permitted to remain in Bhutan for up to 90 days following the date of entry to the Kingdom. Application for a Bhutan tourist visa is a relatively easy process that comes after the far more detailed task of planning your trip. It can take several weeks to find and appoint a local tour agency, create an itinerary that will need to include flights and airport transfers, accommodation, trekking, overnight stops in the mountains, and to book a guide – all of which are requirements for travel to Bhutan and become much more difficult to book if you intend to travel in the high season months of October and November, or March and April. Once the flights are booked, the itinerary agreed, the tour operator's fees are paid, and the SDF for your travelling party all paid in full, it is then time to submit your Bhutan visa application either by yourself or on your behalf through Secret Retreats or your chosen tour operator. Whichever way you decide to apply, the entry requirements for Bhutan are the same and the visa fee is 40 USD per person, this fee is non-refundable, however the SDF is refundable less transaction charges, in the event that you need to cancel.

Tourists from India are required to Arrange a Bhutan Tourist Permit

Travellers from India are required to arrange a Bhutan tourist permit to travel to Bhutan. The permit for Indian travelers can be applied for on the government website https://visit.doi.gov.bt/. Permits can be pre-booked online, or arranged at the border crossing, but as the queues can be long, pre arranging your Bhutan tourist permit online is strongly recommended. As with the Bhutan tourist visa, applicants for the permit will be required to have full travel insurance, a valid passport and a recent passport photo for each traveller. The SDF for travellers holding passports from India, is only payable when applying for the permit (either online or at the border crossing point).

Although the relaxed rules allow holders of a Bhutan tourist permit to book their own travel itinerary, many choose to plan and book through professional travel experts like Secret Retreats. Tourists are required to appoint a guide for the length of their stay in the country and will also require transport and drivers to get around this mountainous landlocked country. Solo travelers on a Bhutan tourist visa should expect to pay more than those who have organized an itinerary through an accredited Bhutanese tour agency as they will not be able to split the guide, accommodation, or transportation costs. Families traveling to the kingdom are given some financial relief as children under the age of 12 get half-price on the SDF fee, paying USD50 per person per day, and kids below the age of 6 are exempt from paying for the SDF altogether.

Because visiting Bhutan requires detailed forward planning to ensure a smooth and enjoyable holiday, and because the costs of travel can quickly spiral, it is highly recommended to appoint the services of travel professionals like Secret Retreats. Our team of Asia Experts is always on hand to help with the entry requirements for Bhutan and to put together unforgettable Bhutan travel itineraries that will share with you the best travel experiences and sights that this tiny and colorful Himalayan kingdom has to offer.
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